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Confucius, Humpty Dumpty, And Impeachment

January 11, 2020 Frontpage No Comments


“In rebuilding a society in disarray, the first priority is to restore the proper meaning of words” — Confucius, Analects.
“ ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
“ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
“ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all’” — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.

+ + +

The constitutional process of impeachment has roots in centuries of jurisprudence. The authoritative Black’s Law Dictionary recounts at length the term’s provenance, including frequent mention of the Common Law. That term, embedded in English tradition since pre-Norman times, reflects the patient, humble articulation into law of the common sense of generations over the centuries. Until our own time, that respect for the past formed the enduring foundation of our own legal tradition.
The Common Law flows from the accumulated wisdom of a community. It’s based on the assumption that there is a good that all men share “in common.” As long as there prevails a mutual agreement among members of a community about what that “common good” is, a society will thrive. The common man can rely on the stability and order that his community enjoys because its members share a common understanding about what the good is, and can communicate it freely in word and in action.
So in Confucius’ view, the word “impeachment” enshrined in our Constitution has a long history that should be approached respectfully, humbly — even (perhaps) reverently: It is, after all, only one small part of a body of tradition and practice that, as Edmund Burke would advise, should be preserved and protected.
The notion of the common good is prior to politics. It informs politics, and also gives rise to the notion of limited government. After all, as Augustine makes clear, government cannot achieve for us our highest good: salvation. So, while the state provides a modicum of peace and justice, it cannot save our soul.
But what if a society has lost a “common understanding” of its tradition? After all, today’s idol of “diversity” rejects altogether the possibility that a community can claim to have anything in common at all.
Tradition? “Diversity” condemns that backward, nostalgic notion as illegitimate, unless it conforms to the New Orthodoxy. “Diversity” is an ideological construct invented to encourage rebellion against the Common Good — or the possibility of any good at all.
Once it takes hold, however, “diversity” magically takes on a new character. Instead of celebrating the amoral and “free” community it once championed, it now enforces one in which everyone is required to obey the new Leviathan — or else.

Enter Humpty Dumpty

“Never trust anyone over thirty,” was the rallying cry of college students fifty years ago. Today, they have arrived. As leaders of America’s progressive elites, they persevere in their war on the past. Orwell describes their marching orders in Winston’s explanation of his daily routine at Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth:
“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past….The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records, and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it.”
For centuries, the common law tradition regarded impeachment as one of many means of limiting excesses of power. With that tradition vaporized (to employ Orwell’s term), the hollowed-out vocabulary of tradition can now be hijacked to mean whatever the new manipulators might want it to mean: not to preserve limits on power, but to destroy them. All the while, the Leviathan’s Prime Mandate is borne constantly in mind:
Both Confucius and Humpty Dumpty agree on the importance of words. While Confucius seeks to restore them to their proper meaning, Humpty destroys it, filling the empty husks with his own foul concoction — all the while advertising his flimsy counterfeits as the real thing. Here he bows to Confucius: Words do have meaning, after all. But he hijacks words to garner support from those who harbor a lingering attachment, however vague, to the memory of what words truly represent. Leviathan’s goal is not to restore a reality that we have lost, but to pursue power and to maintain it.
Here Humpty employs the classic bait-and-switch. Indeed, it’s classic because it works again and again. It is as fundamental to the dialectic of the left as it was to Machiavelli’s Prince.
Consider: Those seeking power don’t just stand up like the cannibal plant in The Little Shop of Horrors and shout, “Feed me! Feed Me!” However honest, that tactic would be unseemly. Humpty would suggest a more sophisticated approach. The power-hungry should seek a traditional word that is widely respected — even, yes, revered — and hijack it “to mean whatever they want it to mean.”
Examples abound. “Progress.” “Democracy.” Even, these days, “equality.”
And now, “impeachment.”
But wait — is nothing left of reverence, or at least respect, for tradition, for humility?
Here Vladimir Lenin provides the finishing touch. Humpty Dumpty asks, “Who shall be master?” That question lies at the core of every revolution. And for Lenin, “anything that furthers the revolution is ethical.”
So: Has Congress impeached the president? They say they have, but in the spirit of Humpty Dumpty, not Confucius.
And what about where we started? “What is the proper meaning of ‘impeachment’?”
Today it means, “Whatever the Congress has done lately.”
Rather than resting on hundreds of years of common law tradition and common sense, “impeachment” has now entered a new era, in which it will be wielded, early and often, as just one more weapon in the struggle for power.
Humpty Dumpty 1, Confucius 0.

Curiosities Abound

Only eight officials have been impeached by the House and convicted (and removed from office) by the Senate. All eight were federal judges — who, unlike elected officials, serve for life. One of them was Alcee Hastings, impeached (by a Democrat House that voted 419-3) and convicted in the Senate in 1989. His career is so riddled with accusations of corruption and malfeasance that, were he a Republican (he isn’t), he would be long retired in Florida. Instead, he is a senior member of Congress, and now serves as the second-ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee overseeing the impeachment. When the House moved to impeach President Trump, Hastings voted “aye.”
And then there were the impeachments that never were. In 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died five months after he secretly agreed to hand over 100 million Christians in Eastern Europe to Stalin. His administration overflowed with Communist spies. Had he lived, would he have been impeached?
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presided over the Benghazi disaster in 2012, and then, when pressed on her role in a Senate hearing, whined, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Janet Reno wasn’t impeached for the massacre at Waco, nor was Eric Holder for “Fast and Furious” (although he was held in contempt by a vote of the House).
And the future?
Humpty Dumpty is not alone. Stalin wrote a whole book on language because words have power. And in our own age, where we can hold no truths to be self-evident, persuasion can be effective only where, in Mao’s words, it comes from the barrel of a gun.

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